Not Your Saturday Morning Cartoon

During the nights of Jan. 25-26,Roseland Ballroom in Manhattan was graced with a line-up of award winning animation from around the world. “The Animation Show” is currently on its third tour of the country and lays claim to being the largest traveling film festival in the country that caters strictly to animation.

The festival was founded in 2003 by Mike Judge (“Beavis and Butt-head,” “Office Space”) and Don Hertzfeldt. The two were at Sundance when they came to the conclusion then that there needed to be a festival for the promotion of animation in the country. Theirs was to be the only festival run and founded by actual animators.

Both founders were M.I.A. at the New York City premier (Don Hertzfeldt was at Sundance where his short “Everything Will Be OK” won the Grand Jury Award for Best Short Film). The job of hosting was taken over by local animators Bill Plympton and PES. Plympton, a two-time Academy Award nominee, has had his animated shorts shown on MTV and HBO and has a large following in New York City. PES, a stop-motion animator with a B.A. in English, quit his job to make his first film “Roof Sex.” The film was received with such wide acclaim that he has since been sought out for advertising by some of the top companies in the country. He has done commercials for Nike, Coinstar, the L.A. Dodgers and most recently four spots for Bacardi.

The festival began with a cordial welcome and introduction by Judge’s most infamous animated characters, Beavis and Butthead. The first short “Rabbit,” was directed by Run Wrake, whose previous credits include a dozen 15 second shorts for MTV and big screen visuals for U2. “Rabbit” (2006) tells the story of the typical Dick and Jane who find an atypical idol inside of a rabbit that turns insects into jewels. The eight-minute short was visually appealing and seemed to set the tone for the night: technique over story.

Shane Acker’s student film “Nine” (2005) tells the tale of a post-apocalyptic valley of spent toys whose souls have been stolen by a robotic, hyena-esque scavenger. After rag doll number nine witnesses the death of number five, he avenges his master’s death with a series of guerilla tactics you may see Schwarzenegger use against the Predator. The piece took Acker four years to complete, during which he spent some six months animating for “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.” The short is to be made into a feature length film that will be either directed or produced by Tim Burton.

The crowd pleaser of the night was most definitely the French student film “Versus” (2005). The film pitted rival samurai islanders against each other for possession of the small island between the two. The tone and humor was similar to that of Brad Bird’s “The Incredibles” and touched upon the classic build-up gags of the animation of Warner Brothers.

The festival also featured a film that has generally considered a recent classic by those who have had the chance to see it. “Overtime” (2004), also a French film and homage to Jim Henson, tells the story of a group of Kermit-like puppets that find their creator dead. They slowly come to understand death and their loss, and in the moving finale the small furry hands of one of the puppets closes the eyes of the creator.

The Animation Show will be in New York again in Bayshore on March 1. Visit www.animationshow.com for details.